As we entered 2021, we caught up with Impact’s founder and CEO, David Williams, to get his thoughts on the biggest challenges facing the L&D sector in 2021. Here is what he told us:
Custom-designed blended learning
As we look ahead to a post-Covid-19 business landscape, it is important to consider how we will manage the shift away from screen-based learning. The opportunities for interaction, collaboration, flexibility, cost-saving, and increased accessibility that virtual learning has provided us with ensure that we will retain it as a working practice, but it would be a huge mistake to discard face-to-face experiences altogether. At Impact we are firm believers that good learning and development isn’t about transmitting content or knowledge to others through screens or devices, it’s about provoking people to want to learn and change, and this is harder to achieve through virtual experiences alone. The way forward will be through blending the two: combining powerful, memorable, emotionally charged face-to-face experiences that provoke, challenge and encourage people to step out of their comfort zones with high-quality virtual learning, thereby allowing you to personalise and extend the scope of each learning journey through both electives and core modules of tailored content. When combined with a well-designed ‘experiential learning platform’, valuable management feedback and evaluative data also become part of the mix.
One positive consequence of the challenging past year has been the way that wellbeing has risen up the agenda. People have higher expectations now for their wellbeing and are getting much better at prioritising their mental health. Considering this, L&D professionals need to think about the mental health consequences of how they ask people to participate in their experiences. Creating a psychologically safe space in which people can feel confident enough to bring their whole selves is key.
Fostering better environments for mental health will also involve prioritising time spent outdoors. There is an abundance of evidence highlighting the link between mental health and time spent in the natural world, and the lockdowns have attested to this, with many more people now spending time outside whenever they physically can. This doesn’t have to involve any extreme activity – when it comes to mental health and wellbeing, going for a walk and a talk is just as good as climbing a mountain! Indeed, L&D journeys can be made much more impactful if participants are encouraged to go outside while they reflect on their experiences and learning.
Another consequence of the last year is that employers and L&D specialists will have to change outdated attitudes to trust. People have been trusted to work from home alone for months – for many of us it has been almost a year – so there will be a heightened expectation for people to be trusted to make their own decisions about where they work, how they work, and when they work – and the same goes for learning too. We have talked about different learning styles for a long time, but the need to take them into account has become much more important now. L&D organisations need to recognise this and design their learning journeys around different preferences and learning styles, allowing for flexibility. There will always be certain set pieces at the centre of any learning journey, but surrounding that, there needs to be more freedom for people to be able to learn in the way they want to learn.
Our web-based learning app, air, enables this customised learning approach, offering the opportunity to filter pools of participants by learning style and group them accordingly. Furthermore, on our micro-journeys, we release content each day, allowing participants to complete their journey on their own terms whilst still feeling connected to a community of people learning alongside them. Providing more flexibility empowers participants to make the most of their learning journey.
Leading organisational change
No organisation will be the same after Covid-19, and the more entrepreneurial ones will be using this time to reflect upon the shape of their business and to question how they will move forward. Asking themselves what type of organisation they want to be in the future, what kinds of services or product lines they can offer, and how can they be more flexible and more prepared for the next crisis, whatever and whenever that may be.
Now is the time to ask these big questions, and the most enlightened organisations will be putting their people at the heart of this process. Because when it comes to change, it is not just about being agile, it is also about adopting a collaborative approach in which change is something that everyone feels part of. Covid-19 has demonstrated that no single person has all the answers, and that the best leaders are those who have the confidence to ask questions when they don’t have the answers, holding space open for others to step into. Working together on scenario planning, exploring ‘what ifs’, and maintaining flexibility gives change and transformation a whole new importance. This mode of dispersed leadership also helps to liberate the potential of your people, who become agents of change rather than passive followers. Facilitating this process is now a key learning and development requisite.
Merging personal, brand and organisational values
Long ago, I recognised that the process of creating brand values for marketing purposes is similar to the process we use to identify people values in human resources. But what happens if your brand and people values are not aligned? In 2021, L&D and marketing need to work far more closely together to avoid the tension this potential clash could create.
Agile, fast moving, responsive organisations will have closely aligned brand, organisational, and people values that are lived on a daily basis. Issues around strategy and services cannot be examined in isolation from discussions about people and retention. For example, instead of a training course on leadership being separate to a training course on products, both approaches will become blended and interdependent. Meetings will bring issues and tasks together with clear processes from HR that structure how the meeting unfolds and what everyone can expect from it. Work-based projects and innovation exercises are prioritised as action learning experiences. Learning in the flow of work becomes the norm.
Retention in a post-Covid-19 world
Having an organisation with strong, integrated people and brand values is going to be more important than ever going forward. I believe that after Covid-19, people are going to be even more focused on making the best use of their time. This includes working for an organisation that reflects their own values and ambitions and gives them the opportunity to succeed and grow. The doors of opportunity have been shut for a long time now, with many people unable to move on or try anything new. As soon as those doors open there is likely to be a strong temptation for people to look around at what else is out there. There could be a lot of moving and change. One way to insure against this is to prioritise employee engagement now. Offering exciting L&D experiences and accelerating personal learning and development will demonstrate to employees that they are valued. To compete for talent in a world of opportunity means demonstrating that yours truly is an organisation worth working for.
The challenges facing L&D in the coming year are also tremendous opportunities – for growth, for learning, and for change. Are you ready?